The Blame Game


Caricature of Boss Tweed by Thomas Nast.

Caricature of Boss Tweed by Thomas Nast, via Wikipedia

The contentious debate in Washington over raising the debt ceiling causes me to wonder anew about why capable people would want to be politicians.  Ego has to be a huge part of it, from my observations, but every once in a while a Michael Bloomberg comes along and gives me renewed hope.

In my experience people generally find politicians to be a scornful class, although they usually like their own politician.  Hmm.  Do you think that might change if the tax code were reformed and political pork vanished?  Perhaps.  However, a different facet of human nature might prevail in that case, i.e., the need to justify one’s decision (vote).  No one likes to admit mistakes.

Speaking of political mistakes, political columnist Dan K. Thomasson in today’s (7/15/2011) Joplin Globe posted what I take to be a remarkably perceptive and non-partisan assessment of the faults of both political parties.  Or maybe “anti-partisan” would be a better term, because he argues that both parties have been to blame for the mess.

President Lyndon Johnson foresaw the end of th...

LBJ, via Wikipedia

Particularly blameful in his assessment is Lyndon Baines Johnson.  I recalled that Johnson’s “guns and butter too” philosophy was devastating to the economy but I wasn’t aware of the specific legislative shenanigans he pulled to implement it.  Did you realize it was LBJ who “initiated the policy of counting Social Security Trust funds as part of the revenue stream and a hedge against excessive debt”?  I didn’t.

The strange fact that the government collects Social Security taxes and then spends rather than saving them was recently discussed in this group of blogs and it was clear that even some experienced political bloggers didn’t know this was the case.  That alone is enough in my opinion to nominate LBJ for Damnatio memoriae, not even mentioning the Vietnam war debacle.  (On second thought, cancel the nomination.  His mistakes deserve castigation, not erasure, lest we repeat them.)

Thomasson also has scathing blame for George W. Bush who,

never met a spending bill or a tax cut he didn’t like so he never vetoed anything significant in that direction during eight years in office.

Excoriating both parties, he says,

It is difficult for those of us who covered Congress in the old days to understand a Republican Party that seems utterly inflexible in its refusal to consider any tax increase whatsoever including closing loopholes for special interests on the theory that to do so would hinder growth and feed the economic woes. Well, we have the renewed tax cuts and unemployment remains above 9 percent and a lot of those jobs just aren’t coming back. At the same time Democrats irresponsibly have used entitlements as a political assault weapon, pandering to those who refuse to believe the need to bring them under control.

Thomasson lays heavy blame on president Obama for not personally intervening sooner, “. . . finally taking an active hand after three years of ignoring the obvious . . . ”  Pragmatically, I doubt it would have done much good if he had because messing with entitlements would have angered the electorate and his fellow Democrats in Congress would have balked, big-time.  However, one point is telling when Thomason points out that Obama failed to press for implementation of the reforms simply on the basis his own bi-partisan commission.  I too blame Obama for that – it was a huge wasted opportunity.  But, I think he knew that it would give too much ammunition to his opposition and would have doomed any chance at a second term, so he put politics above the nation’s best interests.  Isn’t it a shame that only politicians (usually) get to be president?  (Ike, please come back.  We need you!)

Thomasson is trying to be a moderate in this situation, something for which I took scatological heat and personal  insult in these blogs only yesterday.  There is comfort in partisanship and a good deal of fun in dealing out insults and vague innuendo by people who lack credentials or conceal their own bona fides to criticize.  And, acting this way takes a lot less research (read, work).


About Jim Wheeler

U. S. Naval Academy, BS, Engineering, 1959; Naval line officer and submariner, 1959 -1981, Commander, USN; The George Washington U., MSA, Management Eng.; Aerospace Engineer, 1981-1999; Resident Gadfly, 1999 - present. Political affiliation: Democratic.
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27 Responses to The Blame Game

  1. IzaakMak says:

    I find it very interesting that while both sides of this ugly political system are blaming each other for the impending failure of the Social Security system, neither ever mentions the fact that the “crises” would be a lot less dire were it not for their consistent use of the Social Security Trust Fund as a free for all “pork” piggy bank.


  2. Jim,

    Although I appreciate the moderate spirit you bring to any discussion, I disagree with part of what you suggest here.

    Thomason said,

    At the same time Democrats irresponsibly have used entitlements as a political assault weapon, pandering to those who refuse to believe the need to bring them under control.

    It is necessary to point out that both parties have recently used entitlements as assault weapons. Lest we forget, only last November Republicans used the Democrats passage of the Affordable Care Act—which cut Medicare Advantage, in reality a subsidy for insurance companies—as a way to scare seniors. And it worked big time. So, in an effort to be balanced, Thomason is really ignoring what Republicans did less than a year ago.
    And you say that the reason Obama passed on Simpson-Bowles was because “he put politics above the nation’s best interests.” Huh? He created the deficit commission in the first place and tried to get Republicans, who once supported it as a binding commission, to sign on to it as a binding commission. Their failure to support it left Obama no choice but to tread carefully.

    What you would have him do? Unilaterally disarm and hand the government over to his political enemies, who would only do further damage? Obama is now in a position to do something precisely because he can press Republicans for political courage on their side. Why? Because it is Republicans who made a crisis out of the debt ceiling issue and now they are forced to put up or shut up. This is the perfect time to do something “big” as Obama has said over and over again. Embracing Simpson-Bowles would have left him hanging without any pressure on Republicans; it would have defeated him politically, and therefore it would not have helped the country one bit.

    (And by the way, like most pols, Johnson is a mixed bag. The Vietnam War, by far, was his worst sin, in my opinion.)


    • Jim Wheeler says:


      I give Obama high credit for creating the commission. It was the right thing to do, but by not pressing hard for its approval, he missed a chance to benefit the nation long-term. Yes, I believe he would have forfeited a second term by doing so, but I think it would have made him one of our greatest presidents in the eye of history. Lincolnesque, even. Eventually. In the short term, you are right – the Republican party would have had a field day blaming him for the financial pain. But I don’t agree that doing so wouldn’t have helped the country one bit. If the Congress had approved it, it would be good medicine for the country, albeit painful. But I suggest they would not have approved it because the public would have been against it. At least then, Obama could say he tried to do the right thing.



  3. johncerickson says:

    A blog friend of mine, Padre Steve Dundas ( has discussed what you mentioned in your penultimate paragraph – the fact that Obama put party above country. More so than just this one person or one example. the Padre noted (and I agreed) that there has been a shift from the days of JFK (sorry, Anson) and his famous phrase “Ask not what your country can do for you”. Politics has shifted to a very base “What’s in it for me” attitude. Just as I stated when I mentioned that I would like to see a nationwide initiative (much like JFK’s call for the moon landing), that sense of selfless leadership seems long gone, and is so often the case, disappeared in steps. Once upon a time, being a politician meant trying to help others. Nowadays, it seems to be about helping yourself.


    • Jim Wheeler says:

      Let me be clear on my point, John, lest I be quoted out of context. I did not mean that Obama meant the nation harm by failing to press for approval of his commission’s recommendations, but simply that he saw political expedience as ranking higher in priority (and more likely of being productive) than calling for unpopular and painful reforms. And we should also remember the political mood of the country as exemplified by the unemployment rate.

      For more, please see my response to Duane on the same subject, below.



      • johncerickson says:

        I’m sorry, Jim, I didn’t mean to imply that you were saying Obama intended harm or even negligence. The point I was trying to get across (with my usual clumsiness) is that politicians these days are interested in the easy way, and if given a choice between taking the hard choice that might damage them, or taking the easy choice that can make things more difficult for others down the road, they go for the easier route – that of “political expedience”, as you say. Sorry for not making that clearer.


        • Jim Wheeler says:

          No apology needed John. I simply saw in your comment where my post MIGHT have been misconstrued, so I just wanted to try to anticipate any misunderstanding. There’s been a lot of that going on lately, in case you hadn’t noticed. 🙂


  4. Jennifer Lockett says:

    My students and colleagues often tell me that I’m a cynical human being. I loathe politicians and find that all of them (almost without exception) are lying, narcissists, in it to satisfy their own needs of praise and attention. Whenever a politician is caught in scandal (e.g. Anthony Weiner or Blagojevich or David Vitter) I often wonder why people are surprised. It’s inherent in their nature, always has been.
    And partisan politics… I recall having friends on both sides insisting that the world would come to an end if the other party’s official were elected. I just assumed that my life would stay, pretty much the same regardless of who is actually in power. It seems that the names change, the actions are the same. I no more thought that George W. Bush would turn the U.S. into a theocratic state of perpetual war than that Obama would make us a socialist, atheist society (conversely I didn’t believe GW would bring back ‘basic values’ and become less dependent on the state or that Obama would give us a country of rainbows and unicorns).
    Politicians have been the same as long as they have existed – one need one look at the politics of Ancient Greece, Rome, France, Egypt, etc. As long as there have been states requiring power, there have been politicians.
    I love the damnatio memoriae reference! BTW: What’s the difference between a crack addict and a politician? A crack addict will steal your wallet. A politician will steal your wallet and then pretend to help you look for it.


    • Jim Wheeler says:

      Can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em. I agree. Good examples. Don’t forget my personal favorites for the rogue’s gallery: John Edwards and LBJ.

      Love the joke. 😆


    • Rawhead says:

      “And partisan politics… I recall having friends on both sides insisting that the world would come to an end if the other party’s official were elected. I just assumed that my life would stay, pretty much the same regardless of who is actually in power. It seems that the names change, the actions are the same.”

      Exactly how I feel and the secondary reason I don’t bother to vote… the primary being extreme laziness, of course.

      I usually lump politicians and policemen together. It seems both professions attract narcissistic personalities rather than people with a genuine interest in improving things. Anyone who would actually WANT to be a politician probably shouldn’t be!


      • Jennifer Lockett says:

        Well, I do still vote. Perhaps I’m just a hopeless optimist. Heck, I even vote in really small, local elections where the voter turn it is usually single digits.
        Sometimes I just write in a candidate – I’ve voted for myself for president at least once. Even though I’m not old enough to hold office, I figure I should focus on getting the public demand up and then go for the Constitutional Amendment when there’s backing (like prohibition and then the repeal of prohibition).


  5. sekanblogger says:

    I ask the politicians to drop their antagonisms and their antipathies, their hatreds and racial differences, and to attempt to think in terms of the country as one family.

    I would remind them that hatred and separateness have brought us to the present condition.

    I would add to that reminder, the fact that there is in the nation today a large enough number of liberated men, to produce a change in the attitudes of politicians and public opinion, if they measure up by an act of the will, to what they know and believe to be the best actions for our people.


  6. ansonburlingame says:

    To all,

    For every politician that has a “sex scandel” I wonder the % of “normal” people that do the same thing but we do not read about it? My guess is the % for politicians is lower because they are more careful to hid their misdeeds OR make a choice not to do so, not because they have different desires, but the consequences of letting those desires take over are greater. So as basic human beings, I challenge the asseration that politicians are any “worse” than the rest of us.

    BUT politicians, at least the “professional” ones are a unique tribe (Jim) in my view but they still act like a tribe of sorts, may two different tribes, today in America. I doubt very seriously if many Navajo’s lived with or acted like an Apache. Each went their own way. But in DC we have Commanches FORCED to work with Apaches (the two most “warlike tribes that I can think of) and the fate of the country demands that they work together.

    Well over time what happened to Commanches and Apaches? They now live on reservations or are relegated to history books only. Certainly any remaining members of those tribes have little to say about how many people die on the plains of Texas or Arizona today, right. And their way of life has simply “gone”.

    Now which tribe (if you were a Texan or Arizonian) did you prefer while they were scalping your kids?



    • Jim Wheeler says:

      You have misconstrued my intention, Anson. I do not assert that politicians as a class are “worse” than the rest of us. If you will read more closely I said that most people find them to be a scornful class, but that they tend to like their own politician, i.e., the one that represents them and for whom they voted. I then went on to excoriate LBJ, whom I think deserves it in spades. I also talked about ego. Would you question whether that is an important part of what motivates someone to seek a political job? I suspect not.

      I suggest that politicians are an essential part of our form of government and when we find one, perhaps like Claire McCaskell or Michael Bloomberg, who can do this difficult job well, we should treasure and re-elect them.

      For further clarification, I hope, please see the video in my latest comment to this same post. And thanks for yours.


    • sekanblogger says:

      Did you know the tribe native to this area had a very similar government even before our own nation was conceived? And that the Osage were as fierce and feared as any tribe?
      I know the whole indian meme is off topic, but I just like the history.


      • Jim Wheeler says:

        The writer of the linked post is clearly an admirer of Native American heritage, but the post contains several assertions that are hard for me to swallow, notably this,

        The Osage were a highly organized people who’s government structure was more than likely the model for modern western civilization’s present governments. They certainly (indirectly) brought the notion of “Inalienable Rights” to Thomas Jefferson and the Founding Fathers.

        I would challenge the writer to substantiate these statements. However, the culture shock expressed about the white man doesn’t surprise me and is likely quite accurate. From reading I surmise that even the semi-nomadic Osage placed less value in material possessions than did the settlers. This seems natural, considering that Europe had less land, more people and more time to stake out and fight over and covet ownership of land and stuff.


  7. Jim Wheeler says:

    Lest I leave readers with the wrong impression with this post I would like to add something. Politicians run the gamut from Blagojevich to Eisenhower, but they have a tough job, and that job is at no times tougher than when financial fear is rife and emotions raw, as they are now.

    I just saw a very interesting video on the subject put out by the White House. Usually I shun such things because they are likely to be slanted. I mean, why would you expect otherwise? But in this case it is the president talking candidly, articulately and without a script to some school kids. I don’t recall ever seeing any president in my lifetime doing this so well. So, without proposing that this supports any particular position on the current problems, I submit that it speaks of the attitude that all the participants should emulate.


    • Jim,

      Thanks for posting the video. It is the essence of Obama and it shows what makes progressives and liberals so anxious about his willingness to play politics by “the old rules.” Those rules, to mean anything, must be followed by both sides, and today they are not.

      By the way, if you have never read “Dreams From My Father,” I urge you to do so sometime before the next election. It is a superbly written book and demonstrates why we are lucky to have Obama as president during these difficult times, no matter the outcome of the next election.

      It also shows how Obama became the thoughtful guy in the video.



      • Jim Wheeler says:

        Thanks, Duane. I will try the book, and appreciate the suggestion.

        I consider myself to have a sensitive BS meter in my brain, hence native skepticism and, cynicism of course. The man in the video didn’t move the needle so much as a flicker.


  8. I’d mostly agree with you on LBJ, but he did get the civil right law of 1964 passed. I’m not sure a politician of last ability could have done so at that time.


  9. Pingback: US Presidential profiles in violations of Justice (Part 3 – former US President Johnson) « We dream of things that never were and say: "Why not?"

  10. ansonburlingame says:


    I should have been more clear. My point about politicians was directed at the other commenter saying she “hates politicians” or words to that effect. My point is as humans politicians are “just like us”.

    Yes LBJ gave us Civil Rights changes. He also gave us Medicare. Now what is the single biggest problem we face today, according to Jim. MEDICAL COSTS, and federally that comes down to MEDICARE, a program that we cannot sustain.

    Now I simply picked an Indian tribe analogy to make my “tribal point” of how Dems and Reps now act in DC today. They are two very distinct and warlike “TRIBES”, battling on a daily basis for supremacy. Simple point of reality today, I believe, and not intended to be “anti-indian”. I could have picked “Hatfields and McCoys” to make the same point.

    Hard to be politically correct to make a simple point, sometimes. What if I had used the “black and white” struggle??? OMG.



  11. Jim Wheeler says:

    Right, Anson, we agree that the cost of medical care is the heart of the problem, but I submit that the Medicare Program is not itself the problem, which is what I believe you are implying. This is important. Medicare, in fact, appears to be one of the few forces holding down medical costs. I’m sure that you, like me, have noticed that the amounts paid by Medicare are much less than the amounts charged. If it weren’t for Medicare, read “government”, those higher amounts would be what you have to pay.

    Can’t sustain Medicare? Just throw it out and see what happens.

    What would happen if we changed to Ryan’s voucher program instead of Medicare? The costs would come down all across the board, all seniors would still pay considerably more, using their vouchers for private insurance, and the medical industry would be restored to something like competition, is what I predict. So what’s wrong with it? What’s wrong is that the vouchers would still not be enough for many of the less-wealthy to afford decent care and many would postpone doctor visits until they were in serious trouble.

    We have had some good discussions about medical costs before, haven’t we? Allow me to recommend this summary post on the subject:



  12. ansonburlingame says:


    OK, sticking just to medical costs and Medicare. Costs make Medicare too expensive for the federal government to sustain it. But Medicare ultimately drives up costs for medical care, in my view.

    Consider this situation. Without Medicare the number of patients seeking medical care would plummet. Count the number of “old people” in any hospital on any day or look at older people waiting to see a doctor in a given wating room. And part of our problem today is lack of doctors.

    Now what has happened to medical costs since 1965? Skyrocketing, in my view. Did technology alone cause that to happen? X-rays were fairly “new” technology when I was a kid. But my father could afford to have my arm X-rayed when I broke it. No one paid for that care other than my father who was decidedly NOT a rich man.

    Now look at a relatively new technology today, an MRI. None of us can afford an MRI today without insurance of some sort.

    Simple point, when government starts paying for new things the cost of such new things goes up, in my view. Government should only pay for the things for which government is responsible and I see no federal responsibility for health care anywhere in the Constitution, good idea or not, the responsibility is simply not there without more penumbras.



    • Jim Wheeler says:

      You and I are dancing around the same point here, Anson. Insurance obscures the link between product and cost that makes capitalism work. For medical care, it’s broken. Medicare cares about cost and contains it, somewhat, but its power to control costs is severely hobbled by Congress. Please see my latest post on the cost of drugs and I think we will have agreement. 🙂



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